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Hingham prepares to contest new FEMA flood maps

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 25, 2013 03:49 PM

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Hingham is hoping to finalize an agreement with an engineer early next week to help the town rebut new flood maps that have added 500 homes to the flood zone.

Town officials approved the appropriation of $40,000 from the town’s reserves on Tuesday for the study, and are deciding between two engineering firms for the work.

“We’re beginning the process to see if we have enough of a case to make an appeal,” said Town Administrator Ted Alexiades. “We have high confidence based on preliminary data and anecdotal data that the FEMA flood maps have some significant errors in them. However, we’re going to contract with an engineering firm to confirm that.”

Hingham is looking to work with either GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc., which compiled flood maps used by the town since 1986, or the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which has been used by Marshfield for a similar flood map appeal.

The maps would be studied over the next several months, but administrators are eager to act before new flood insurance rates, imposed by a federal mandate, are put into effect next October.

The problem is one many coastal communities in the South Shore are dealing with, after the Federal Emergency Management Association compiled new maps meant to better represent flood risk.

The expanded flood plain, reflecting the one percent annual risk of flood, is only part of the problem for locals.

Since the new maps were passed and enacted in the South Shore suburb last year, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, changing how the National Flood Insurance Program is run.

Within the program, insurance rates have been increased dramatically. Those rates will hit existing flood plain homeowners in 20-25 percent increases over the next several years, as grandfathering is being slowly stripped away.

Those new to the flood plain will also be paying high rates, though many say they have never had any flooding in the history of their home.

“At the end of the day, what we’re going to be focusing on is the unfairness of a policy designed to address a budgetary issue on a national level,” Alexiades said. “I don’t think anyone in Hingham or anyone in the country doesn’t want these budget issues addressed…but it’s how…and on the backs of a small group of the population is not how the country has managed successful programs.”

The town’s efforts have been aided by a small group of Hingham residents in the Otis Street neighborhood, who initially hired an engineer to bring clarity to their newfound costs.

“We’ve been building on their work,” Alexiades said of the residents.

In addition to the work on the map appeal, Alexiades said state and federal representatives are fighting the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act on the federal level.

Though higher flood rates may ultimately affect waterfront property values, which would in turn increase the taxes for other Hingham homeowners, Alexiades said any larger effects are still a ways off.

The primary focus remains on the residents facing steep changes to the cost of living near the water.

“This is much more an issue of significant economic impacts to the property owners in that area. And that should be enough to act, and it is,” Alexiades said.

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